When I first start my yoga classes, I will take a moment to introduce myself, say how long the class is, and maybe touch base on what we are going to be working on during class. After that, I guide students into a comfortable seat or reclined position, and ask them to start dropping their thoughts and arriving on their mats, and centering themselves.
While that's all well and good for the seasoned yogi that might know instinctively to tune in while at the same time tuning out, the newbie or average newcomer might be laying on their mat, eyes open, staring up or out, thinking, "what is she talking about?" ... this might then add to a whole slew of thoughts ... "I don't get it. Oh, I didn't get my change from the coffee shop today. HEY... my coworker short-changed me for their hot chocolate, what is wrong with them? I have to go shopping after I get out of here. Do I smell? I have to do laundry. I'm kinda hungry. Maybe I shouldn't have had those last three hershey's kisses. Mmmmm chocolate... Why am I here, I have too many other things to do." I could go on but you get the picture.
Meanwhile I'm talking about doing body scans and breathing into different parts of your body and breathing through any tension, and really dropping in to your space. If it sounds a little woo woo, trust me, there are times when I feel a little woo woo while I'm speaking it.
So what, exactly, is centering? Is it overrated? Underrated? I'm going to explain my take on it, and let you be the judge. As always, my take on things might not be another teacher's take on things ... which might not be yet another teacher's take on things... get it? We are all different with different views. :)
(For me...) Centering consists of four components:
3) Breath (aka pranyama)
Arrival ... this is after you arrive at the studio, and after you arrive in the studio, after you have grabbed your blocks, straps, bolsters, water, towel, and any other yoga paraphernalia that might accompany you into the studio. This is once you plop down into a space and the teacher has come in and introduced themselves to you and the class. Usually the teacher will tell you what pose they'd like to see you in. They might tell you what pose to get into; they might offer a variety. Once you've been instructed, this is now were you start to settle into the pose, and one that will allow you to really tune into yourself and arrive on your mat.
Now, you're mind might still be kinda all over the place. After all, you have been awake and some days are busier/crazier/more stressful than others, and it might take a minute to start to settle down.
However, as your brain starts to slow down, notice without judgment what else has arrived with you. (No, not WHO else, close your eyes.) This is where inquiry, the second step of centering, takes center stage... a place where your brain might be itching to tell you a bunch of things about your body and state of mind. Let it. Check in with your energy level … are you tired? Stressed? Happy? Excited? As you drop in, take a scan of your body, noticing areas of tightness or fatigue. Pay attention to the places that need more care, and trust me, they differ from day to day. Take inventory of how you physically feel. Without judging or comparing, allow all of this information to help you through your practice today.
Now that your brain has had it's moment, start to give it something else to concentrate on; your breath, the third component. Bring your attention to your breath, and slowly starting to breathe in and out through the nose. Audible enough for you to hear it, allowing it to be a sound meditation through your practice … something you can come back to when your mind starts to wander. Not feeling comfortable doing this? Then don't. To me, the entire practice of yoga is an invitation to try something new and challenge yourself, while keeping the mentality that if it doesn't/isn't working for you, it's not something you HAVE to do. Stop and think, you are not the same person you were five years, months, days, even minutes ago. Why on earth would you try to breathe in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable? Just keep your attention on the rising and falling of your breath and start there.
Finally, focus, the fourth component. Bring to mind an intention for your practice today. A what? An intention. This can be a word you feel calling to you. (peace, happiness, forgiveness, it's ok, just be you, etc) The point is, along with your breath, this little word or phrase can serve as a gentle but constant reminder as you move and breathe today. Not feeling any particular word? You can also devote your practice to someone or something that inspires and motivate you. Yes, it CAN be your pet or your favorite coffee mug!!! It's what will keep YOU present, and the importance of that thing is what is important to you.
Now, the cool thing... this centering can be something you carry with you on a daily basis! No! I am NOT saying you need to carry a yoga mat into work and unroll it and drop into a comfortable pose to get centered. Remember, all it takes is attention to where you are right now, an inquiry into how you are feeling right now, a deep breath in and long breath out, and maybe a little phrase to bring you back to your own centered place. Take some time after you read this and think of a word that you can call up when you're having a moment where you need to 'come back to center' as I call it.
I'd love to hear what your word or phrase is!
And remember... It takes a while to remember to keep yourself centered. There have been plenty of classes I've taken and realized three quarters of the way through that I have been caught up in a constant train of thought the entire time my teacher has been speaking. There have been plenty of 'moments' where I need to come back to center and I either forget in the heat of the moment, or find myself not able to return to that center as quickly as I wanted to. The important thing is to have acceptance for yourself when you realize you might not be as centered as you want to be. It takes time, patience, and a light-hearted happy attitude.
Love, Happiness & Coffee,
~ Heather ~